After the ‘hippie’ bus and the Beatles, VW looks at America again

As Volkswagen looks to revive the Scout brand in the United States, CEO Herbert Dice highlighted the decision, saying it represents an opportunity for the German auto giant to “become more American.”

VW last Wednesday announced plans to relaunch the Scout as a full-electric pick-up and “rogue” SUV, with prototypes to be released in 2023 and production to begin in 2026.

In a similar announcement, the company said the vehicles would be “designed, engineered and manufactured in the United States for American customers.”

“The United States is our greatest opportunity for growth,” said Diss, who spoke to CNBC’s Annette Wisbach last week.

He went on to explain why the automaker is targeting the highly competitive American market.

“We are still very niche, very small, with about 4% market share [in the country]”We want to get up to 10% market share by the end of this decade,” he said.

Dice stressed that the firm was fast, profitable and was “improving really well with electric vehicles.”

These vehicles include a fully electric ID Buzz, inspired by a T1 microbus or “hippie” van. European versions of ID Buzz are due to go on sale this year, with an American model going on sale in 2024.

This photo, from 1970, shows people running a version of the Volkswagen microbus at a rock festival in Oregon.

Brian Payne / Pix | Michael Ochas Archives | Getty Images

VW hopes that the introduction of Scout and ID Buzz will continue the tradition of introducing iconic designs in the US market. Over the years, this has included various repetitions of the Beetle and the microbus, as illustrated above.

The history of scouts dates back to the 1960s, when the International Harvester – an agricultural organization originally known as Navistar International Corporation – began to develop. Today, Navistar is part of the Traton Group, a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group.

Scout production ceased in 1980, but Volkswagen’s decision to relaunch it, and Dice’s comments, give some clues as to its strategy.

“If we really want to be relevant in America, we have to look at other departments,” he said. “And pick-ups, big SUVs, a lot bigger in America.”

Diess has described Scout as “America’s favorite brand. So it’s a good opportunity for us to be much more American.”

Read more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

Asked if the scout pickup would only be for the U.S. market, he was adamant. “I wouldn’t say ‘completely dedicated’, but first and foremost… it’s an American product.”

“It will be an American product for American customers, designed for the American environment. Will it be sold outside? Maybe, a decision will be made later,” Dais added.

VW plans to set up a separate and independent company to design, engineer and manufacture scout pick-ups and SUVs for the US market this year.

Volkswagen’s focus on electric vehicles away from the “Dieselgate” scandal in the 2010s. Today, its electrification plans are in direct competition with long-established automakers like GM and Ford, as well as relative newcomers like Tesla.

Regarding the overall potential of the company in the United States, Diess was bullish.

“We are building capacity in the United States. Towards the end of this year, around August, production of ID 4 will begin at our Chattanooga facilities,” he said.

“We have programs for Audi and Porsche to increase their market share and… we will see some more products, electrical products, being produced for America in America.”

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